The 10 Hottest Semiconductor Startup Companies Of 2021

These semiconductor startups are offering novel ways to improve the performance, efficiency, economics and bandwidth of servers and beyond with new takes on CPUs, accelerators and connectivity solutions.

Paving The Way For Next-Gen Data Centers

See the latest entry: The 10 Hottest Semiconductor Startup Companies of 2022

Heterogenous compute is becoming the name of the game for next-generation data centers, and it’s not just Intel, AMD or Nvidia that are offering new components to support this thesis.

These 10 semiconductor startup companies, selected by CRN as the hottest of 2021, are offering novel ways to improve the performance, efficiency, economics and bandwidth of servers and beyond with new takes on CPUs, accelerators and connectivity solutions. And they’re making big moves and raising cash from investors, even in the face of an ongoing semiconductor shortage.

[Related: The 10 Hottest Big Data Startups Of 2021]

Some of these startups, like Ventana Micro Systems, are building new kinds of CPUs using alternative instruction sets. Others, like Speedata, are building accelerators purpose built for workloads like AI, data analytics and storage. Then there’s another class of startups, like Astera Labs, that are tackling data center bottlenecks through silicon for connectivity.

What follows are the 10 hottest semiconductor startup companies of 2021.

Ampere Computing

Top Executive: Renee James, CEO

Ampere Computing is taking on Intel and AMD in the data center with Arm-based CPUs it said can outperform competing processors. The Santa Clara, Calif.-based startup disclosed earlier this year that it has landed Tencent, Bytedance, Equinix, Cloudflare and uCLoud as customers in addition to previously disclosed engagements with Microsoft and Oracle. At the same time, the chipmaker is expanding its OEM coverage beyond Gigabyte and Wiwynn to Foxconn and Inspur Group. The company is also starting to design its own custom cores for processors, going beyond its original strategy of using core designs from Arm for its 80-core Altra and 128-core Altra Max CPUs. The company’s CPUs are now publicly available in public instances provided by Oracle Cloud Infrastructure.

Astera Labs

Top Executive: Jitendra Mohan

Astera Labs is addressing performance, capacity and bandwidth bottlenecks in data centers with purpose-built semiconductor solutions that enable next-generation connectivity. The Santa Clara, Calif.-based startup recently revealed its Leo Memory Accelerator Platform, which will enable servers to create a unified, coherent memory space between CPUs and accelerators, thanks to its support of the Compute Express Link 1.1/2.0 interconnect standards. This will translate into an increase of overall memory bandwidth by 32 gigatransfers per second and a total capacity of 2TB for servers. The reveal of the accelerator platform was complemented by the launch of the startup’s Taurus Smart Cable Module portfolio, which aims to overcome performance bottlenecks in data center switch-to-switch and switch-to-server interconnects. Astera Labs made the announcements roughly two months after announcing that it had raised a $50 million Series C round from investors, including Intel Capital.

Cerebras Systems

Top Executive: Andrew Feldman, CEO

Cerebras Systems is taking on the AI compute market with its massive Wafer Scale Engine chip, which it calls the “largest AI processor ever made.” The Los Altos, Calif.-based startup recently announced it has raised a $250 million Series F funding round from investors. Those funds, which brought the startup’s total funding to $720 million, will be used in part to expand sales of its purpose-built CS-2 AI system, which is powered by the second iteration of its chip, the WSE-2, and can deliver “more compute performance at less space and less power than any other system.” The startup’s systems have been adopted by AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline, Tokyo Electron Devices as well as the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory and Livermore National Laboratory.


Top Executive: Eric Hayes, CEO

Fungible wants to make data centers more powerful, efficient and economical with a portfolio of storage clusters, accelerator cards and turn-key data centers. All these products are powered by the Santa Clara, Calif.-based startup’s data processing unit, which can offload various data center functions from the CPU. The startup most recently launched the Fungible Storage Initiator cards, which allow standard servers to adopt NVME over TCP storage in the fastest and most efficient way possible. This gives data centers the benefits of pooled storage without sacrificing performance. The new product line was launched a couple months after Fungible appointed former Marvell and Broadcom executive Eric Hayes as its new CEO. Hayes took over from Pradeep Sinhu, who moved into the new role of chief development officer while retaining his title as executive chairman. The company has raised more than $300 million from investors, including a $200 million Series C round from 2019.


Top Executive: Elad Sity, CEO

NeuroBlade aims to remove major data movement bottlenecks for data centers with a new data analytics architecture it said is the first to bring processing-in-memory to production. The Tel Aviv, Israel-based startup announced in October that it had raised an $83 million Series B funding round from investors, including Intel Capital, MediaTek and UMC. Core to the startup’s efforts is its Intense Memory Processing Unit, which contains thousands of parallel processors that are closely coupled with DRAM, to cut down on how many times data has to move between memory, storage and CPU cores. The IMPU chips power NeuroBlade’s Xiphos server appliance, which it said can provide up to 100 times faster performance for data analytics applications while also providing a large boost in performance-per-dollar. Among the startup’s early supporters is SAP, which said has “great potential” to significantly improve performance for database management system software.


Top Executive: Prem Jain, CEO

Pensando aims to help companies take on Amazon Web Services with a programmable data processing unit that transforms existing infrastructure into a “cloud-like” environment. The Milpitas, Calif.-based startup most recently announced that that Hewlett Packard Enterprise-owned Aruba Networks is using its DPU to power a first-of-its kind distributed services switch called the Aruba CX 1000. This news came two months after the startup announced it had raised nearly $35 million in new funding from Ericsson Ventures, Qualcomm Ventures, and Liberty Global Ventures to fuel 5G development. Pensando counts HPE, Dell, and VMware as its systems partners, and it has the backing of former Cisco CEO John Chambers, who is a co-founder and the chairman of the company’s board.


Top Executive: Patrick Little, CEO

SiFive is providing an open-source alternative to Arm’s CPU design business with core designs and custom silicon solutions for AI, high-performance computing and other growing markets based on the open and free RISC-V instruction set architecture. The San Mateo, Calif.-based startup recently said it has more than 300 design wins with over 100 customers, including eight of the top 10 semiconductor companies. The startup has reportedly received takeover interest from multiple parties, including Intel, which had offered $2 billion to acquire the startup before discussions ended. Before the reported takeover interest, SiFive announced that Intel’s new foundry business, Intel Foundry Services, will manufacture processors using SiFive’s processor designs. Last August, the startup raised a $61 million Series E funding round led by SK Hynix, with participation from several other investors, including Western Digital Capital, Qualcomm Ventures and Intel Capital.


Top Executive: Jonathan Friedmann, CEO

Speedata is tackling data center bottlenecks in data analytics applications with its new Analytics Processing Unit, which it said can accelerate compute, memory and I/O capabilities without code changes. The Netanya, Israel-based startup announced in September that it had raised $70 million in funding from investors, including Mellanox Technologies co-founder and CEO Eyal Waldman. The startup said its APU chip provides double or more the performance of mainstream CPUs for database and business analytics processes. The startup expects to launch the APU within the next year or so with the support of cloud platform hyperscalers, OEMs and companies that assemble custom IT systems.

Ventana Micro Systems

Top Executive: Balaji Baktha, CEO

Ventana Micro Systems is developing high-performance data center RISC-V CPUs it said can provide “best-in-class” single-threaded performance for cloud, enterprise, 5G, edge and automotive applications. The Cupertino, Calif.-based startup announced in September that it had raised $38 million from investors, including the founders of Marvell Technology Group. The startup is developing the CPUs using the open-source RISC-V instruction set and a multi-core chiplet design, which it said will make the processors “highly portable across different fabs and process nodes.” In addition to make processors for the broader data center market, the startup plans to offer customized chips that will enable hyperscalers “to achieve rapid productization while being able to innovate and differentiate.”

Xsight Labs

Top Executive: Guy Koren, CEO

Xsight Labs plans to upend the data center switch market with a super-fast, programmable switch it said can meet the power and performance demands of cloud, high-performance computing and AI applications while also providing a flexible and scalable architecture. The Tel Aviv, Israel-based startup announced in March that it had raised a Series D funding round that was backed by several investors, including Intel Capital, Xilinx and Microsoft’s venture fund, M12. The startup launched out of stealth mode last December with the announcement that it is now sampling X1, what it said is the industry’s first switch to offer up to 25.6 terabits per second in speed. The startup said its switch silicon offers these fast speeds at very low power, with less than 300 watts required for the higher end.